Group work is a method of primary interaction used by social workers, aimed at helping people with minor adjustment problems in non-clinical settings. Group work undertaken by social workers differs from group therapy, which is practiced by clinical practitioners for the treatment of patients with more serious emotional issues.
By using the group work method, social workers are able to guide participants through a process of adjustment to problems, improving their skills, and learning to cope with their complicated lives. Various techniques and activities can be used in groups, which serve to break down barriers and enhance the conversation and learning experience.
Groups provide a forum for people with similar issues to interact with each other, discussing their problems and receiving feedback and support. It could be people from the same community or people dealing with similar problems such as drug dependency or abusive home situations. The social worker acts as a guide for proceedings, but generally allows the group dynamics to direct the conversation.
The group work method helps people realize that they are not alone and makes it easier for social workers to connect with their clients. Belonging to a group enables participants to work through their problems by sharing experiences and contributing ideas on how to best deal with their problems and find solutions.
Ideally, the participants work together to support one another and draw from each other’s strengths. Depending on the dynamics of the group, members sometimes hold each other accountable according to behavioral standards that they have agreed upon, or they may assist each other with confronting their issues of denial in certain situations.
The shared information and experiences of group work give each participating member a broader perspective than if they were to have one-on-one counseling. Each group has unique dynamics, and due to the complex nature of human conditions, the social worker may also be exposed to elements never before experienced, no matter how much theory and training they have undergone
This is not to say that individual casework does not have its place. Sometimes social workers choose to use both individual casework and group work to help a specific client. An example of this is a situation where the client presents himself with emotional stress due to a problematic situation or relationship within their family group. The social worker will counsel the client individually as well as holding group sessions with the family members to help everyone concerned understand the problems. Not only does this give the social worker a better insight into the problem, thereby improving the quality of their one-on-one counseling sessions, but it also encourages family discussion and hopefully helps the family work on improving the situation and finding solutions.
Group work in larger groups or a community setting
Social group work has an important role to play in communities, schools and businesses, enabling the social worker to impart social norms in an organized, mutual-learning environment. It also enables the social worker or members of the group to advocate for improved services or constitutional rights for the community.
In circumstances where the group is large or the social worker does not have expertise in a particular field, more than one social worker can manage group sessions. This is also beneficial, as they can work with their peers, sharing ideas and learning from each other’s experiences.
Known as co-therapy, two or more social workers working in a group enable different interpretations of a problem, initiate discussion between peers, and improve the likelihood of an efficient solution.
If group social work takes place in a community setting, a group of people may be inspired to form a committee to advocate for rights or improved services within the community.
Group work is practiced by qualified social workers who have been supervised in this particular field of work as part of their training and have sufficient experience. The work differs in terms of expertise and resource requirements from individual casework. Compared to individual casework, where the social worker relies on insight gained from the client in terms of the provision of concrete resources, group work is driven by a more general, group-based discussion with the sharing of many different points of view.
As an experienced social worker with a bachelor’s degree in social work, you may be interested in enhancing your skills by enrolling on Cleveland State University’s online Advanced Standing Master of Social Work (MSW). Cleveland’s MSW Advanced Standing programs online include a course on advanced generalist group work practice, which emphasizes social work with groups as integrative practice. The training focuses on group-based values at various levels and across diverse populations.
Values for group work include:
- Group participation and constructive relationships among persons of all races, national origins, ages and social classes.
- The importance of cooperation and mutual decision-making.
- The value of individual initiative in a group setting and the freedom to express opinions.
- The importance of individualism in a group.
In summary, the benefits of group work for the student or qualified social worker include the following:
- Working with more than one client at the same time saves time.
- It is easier to break down barriers in individuals if they are in a group of people with similar problems.
- People tend to be more open about their problems during group discussions.
- The various perspectives of a problem give the social worker better insight into the problem and possible solutions.
- Group sessions in situations such as family or community issues produce more holistic results.
- The social worker is likely to experience new situations with each group they counsel – thus, group work is an ongoing learning experience for the social worker.
Group work, from a social worker’s perspective, is an ideal way to interact with multiple people, share ideas and experience, and teach participants the finer aspects of social interaction. For students in the discipline, group work offers invaluable knowledge, giving them insight into the complexities of human nature and social settings.
People are, by nature, social beings, and the social worker is more inclined to experience success with a large group than with one-on-one sessions. Social workers are also likely to enjoy the group work side of their job, as it offers a different set of challenges and a deeper understanding of human nature.